by Dawn Clark
When I came home from the ASDAH conference, I was repeatedly asked about my time there. How was it? Did you have fun? Did you learn anything? Who did you meet?
The simple answer to most of those people is; “I had a great time. I really enjoyed meeting everyone. I learned so much. And I learned that I have much to learn, especially regarding marginalized people.” But the deeper answer more confusing and difficult to understand. Deep down, when I reflect on that experience, I want to shout from the rooftops; “I WAS SEEN!!”
And this, for me, has been life-changing. For one of the few times in my life, I was seen for who I am, not what I weigh. Seen as someone who had stories of worth to tell, not someone to be ignored because of their size. Seen as having value, not someone who was lazy and a loser. I could commiserate with people about doctors and therapists. When I mentioned micro aggressions, people knew exactly what I was talking about. Smiles were met with genuine smiles. I wore a bathing suit in public for the first time in almost 25 years and it was greeted with cheers and clapping. When talking about accessibility, there was agreement, not argument.
It was amazing. It was also overwhelming. I didn’t want it to end. For the first time in what seems like forever, I felt safe. I felt as if I could be more of myself with no judgement.
But, like all conferences, the ASDAH conference did come to a close, and I did have to come home—and back to the “real world.” Within 24 hours, I was back to the good (or ill) intentioned weight-loss advice. I was back to the looks on the bus—to the world judging me by what I look like, not by who I am. Instead of health providers who were actively engaged in fighting fatphobia, I had to go to a doctor’s appointment where they insisted that they needed my weight in order to give me care (It was just a blood draw). I went back to a world where my body was once again under constant surveillance—a problem that everyone seems to need to fix.
But there is now a difference. Now, when I walk through this real, fatphobic world, I am less likely to apologize if I need accommodation. I am better equipped with how to talk to my doctor earnestly about my body and what I feel is appropriate. And I feel a little less alone when doing these small steps of self-advocacy. I have been seen. I have found community. I am not alone.
This sense of community has been a gift—and it’s one I want to share with other fat folks like myself. I recently attended a women’s retreat and had the chance to talk about HAES. Now I am still new to HAES, but I decided to take a chance. I got some skeptical looks, but some women really listened, hungry to hear that they didn’t need to destroy themselves for someone else’s ideal. Maybe they, like me, felt a little less alone.
In reflecting on all this, I think the biggest difference is that I have more hope now, something I did not have much of before.
Thank you for the gift of being seen.
Dawn Clark was born in Iowa but has spent most of her life in beautiful western Washington. After high school (where the band uniforms never fit), she moved to Alberta,Canada to attend college. You don’t understand the meaning of cold until you have spent it in the prairies. She now lives back in western Washington and works for a major travel company. She loves to fish, cruise, crochet, cook, and is very active in her church. Through her best friend, she is learning about HAES and has started down the road of being a advocate for herself and others. She attended the International Weight Stigma conference last year in Prague and had the tremendous honor of being one of the speakers at a workshop at the ASDAH conference in Portland in August.